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‘We are no better off’: Revisiting the riots sparked by Mark Duggan shooting 10 years on

Written by on 05/08/2021

What began as a peaceful protest in London, over the killing of Mark Duggan, quickly turned into chaos. 

Rioting spread through cities across England.

Cars and buildings were torched and roads barricaded. Missiles were thrown at police and crowds of people stormed their own communities, with looters helping themselves to everything and anything they could get their hands on.

The remains of a burned out bus in Tottenham, north London
Image: The remains of a burned out bus in Tottenham, north London

The rioters organised themselves via social media and the police struggled to gain control.

It seemed a whole generation was shoving two fingers up at authority.

The cost to the taxpayer would be £133 million in policing and compensation for businesses hit by the violence, MPs were told in 2011.

Mark Duggan
Image: Armed officers intercepted the minicab Mr Duggan was travelling in, following intelligence he was part of a gang and had collected a gun

But the way one views the events that unfolded that summer heavily depends on age, class and postcode.

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Ten years on, Sky News revisits some of the stories behind the riots.

A victim

Trevor Reeves is a co-owner of House Of Reeves, a family furniture shop in Croydon, south London, established in 1867.

It had survived two world wars by the time of the riots but would be devastated by the events of 2011 with one of its buildings burnt to the ground.

Trevor Reeves
Image: Trevor Reeves said his father was “in tears” watching his shop on fire on the news

“I watched it for about half an hour. And then I saw a whiff of smoke come out from one of the windows,” Trevor recalled.

“I had a phone conversation with my father who’d come back from his wedding anniversary, he’d got home turned on the telly and there’s his shop, in flames in front of him on the telly.

“He was practically in tears. You just feel completely impotent and thinking, what do we do now?”

Trevor Reeves
Image: Trevor Reeves co-owns a family furniture shop, established in 1867

This week would have a lasting impact on Trevor and his family.

It only took minutes for the shop to burn down, but many years to rebuild.

“Five years, it’s taken five years out of our lives for that one evening of mayhem.”

A perpetrator

Vernel Dolor was 18 during the riots, living on the Penbury estate in Hackney.

He can’t pinpoint exactly why he decided to get involved that day but says anger at what had happened to Mark Duggan, along with his own dislike towards the police, had a part to play.

Vernel Dolor
Image: Vernel Dolor threw two bottles into the crowd during the riots

“It’s not like you wanted the police to get hurt. But it was like, ‘you lot need to listen’. Something needs to change,” he said.

And it didn’t take long before he got involved, joining the hundreds of people gathered on his road – and decided to throw two bottles into a crowd.

He received a year for each bottle and says his life was turned upside down as a result.

Vernel said: “Looking back on it I can understand they wanted to make an example out of me, but it was two bottles and you’re putting me behind bars, someone who has never been in jail before, someone fresh out of school and you’re putting me on the wing with grown men, grown criminals.”

He said after his criminal conviction, he was also faced with deportation, as he came to the country from St Lucia aged seven.

This meant he was not legally allowed to work, claim benefits and has to pay to use the NHS.

Vernel Dolor
Image: After Vernel Dolor was jailed, he was drawn into a life of crime

As a result, he was drawn into a life of crime and went back to prison.

Eventually, he came across a charity called Key 4 Life, which offered him work volunteering with at-risk youths.

“What [Key 4 Life] did in months, the prison system couldn’t do in 14 years,” he told Sky News.

Riot police form a line in Tottenham, north London
Image: Riot police form a line in Tottenham, north London
Firefighters attempt to put out a blaze in a building in Tottenham, north London
Image: Firefighters attempt to put out a blaze in a building in Tottenham, north London

Vernel says that although he deserved to be punished for the crimes he committed, he believes the majority of the people rioting in 2011 had “heat in our stomachs, with no real place to vent it out” and believes opportunities, rather than sentences, should have been handed down.

Eva Hamilton, from Key 4 Life, set up the charity in the wake of the riots, after seeing children as young as eight involved, hoping to help a “lost generation”.

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She said: “When people are made an example of, its unfair. Of course, there is a need to be punished.

“There are other ways to punish people. If someone has done wrong, how do we help to change that person? There is not enough rehabilitation going on.

“And that should be at the heart of what’s going on in society.”

An expert

Professor Tim Newburn has spent the past decade analysing the riots.

He said, at the time many people were living in communities that felt “occupied” by the police, and that “relationship was often one that was very hostile and difficult and dangerous”.

Tim Newburn
Image: Professor Tim Newburn said issues from the riots were largely ignored

But he said, more generally: “I think it was a sense of impoverishment, a sense of living in communities which were poor, often very poor, often becoming poorer.

“At times, they felt that this was not just an outcome of government policy, often but sometimes perceived as being a deliberate outcome of public policy.”

But he argues that rather than responding to these issues, they were largely ignored, and the lack of a public inquiry at the time was “scandalous”.

Mounted police patrol the streets in Tottenham, north London
Image: Mounted police patrol the streets in Tottenham, north London

“I personally don’t think anything very much was addressed by the government or by the authorities.”

He said there was “no response of any real substance” to the riots, something he also deemed “pretty scandalous”.

Ten years on, he concluded, “we find ourselves in essence, no better off”.

 Sky News

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